The island's ongoing drought is killing trees, which are increasingly drying up, threatening serious ecological damages.

The Forestry Department is showing increased concerns about the large number of trees that are drying up. The best hope is that the weather conditions will soon change.

What is noticeable around the island is that all kinds of trees, even those which are considered more resistant to drought conditions, such as pines, cypress and carob trees are withering away and turning brown - an indication of their poor state.

Takis Tsentidis, Senior Official of the Forestry Department, told the Mail yesterday that "drought affects both the growth of the trees but also the success of their revival".

As he explained, many trees have been destroyed, especially in the eastern parts of Mesaoria, the eastern part of Troodos and the forests of Machairas and Stavrovouni".

However, the present threat to trees is not only due to the current drought, as low rainfall conditions have been commonplace in Cyprus for the past few years.

"The rainfall this year was at really low levels, but it is not only that," Tsentidis continued, "it is also the extremely high temperatures."

"Trees that have survived naturally for over 100 years and carob trees have dried up.

"It is the combination of a series of unfavourable conditions, which are maybe the worst we have seen in a period of say 100 years. It is not only the low levels of rainfall but also the very high temperatures," said Tsentidis.

Aristos Ioannou, Director of the Forestry Department, said that "with four years with low rainfall it was anticipated that our forests would reach this tragic situation."

The lack of water only exacerbates the problem. "Even if we could water the trees, which we can't, we would need water reserves of over 20 years, while we hardly have water to drink," Ioannou said.

Tsentidis added that "it is also expected that more trees will dry up in the future. It is evident that many trees have weakened and have changed colour, as a result of the high temperatures and lack of rainfall."

Ioannou added that the rings in tree trunks were an indicator, not only of age, but also of weather conditions. "This year, the rings have become significantly narrower because of the drought," he said, adding that while during the past years the rings were five centimetres, now they were only half that.

According to Ioannou, many trees might still be saved if it rains in October.

The drought also affects plant and animal life as the impact is consequential. "Drought means less food for birds and animals," said Tsentidis. "There were also problems for the moufflon, so we placed some watering-troughs in the Paphos range."

As to actions that could be taken, Tsentidis said that "trees that have been destroyed will need to be replanted, and we'll have to re-establish the forest. To do this, we need resources, including water of course. We will also have to rethink the materials we use, in order to combat the drought."

Forests cover an estimated 25 per cent of the total area of the island.

Trees are considered 'the lungs of the environment' as they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, which is a vital component for life. In this way, the greenhouse gas load is reduced and effects of global warming are also brought down. Research in fact has shown that the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.

Trees also provide a natural habitat for wildlife, while they also help prevent soil erosion.